Sunday, April 8, 2012

Slogans, Exhortations, and Targets

Slogans, Exhortations, and Targets

It is relevant to remember that W. Edwards Deming passed away nearly 20 years ago, and that while brilliant and a visionary in Quality, he was not the only person to develop a Quality philosophy.  That being said it is really important to take note of the Deming method and to consider it as a key measure of context. 

For those that are not studiers of the Deming Management Method, I will tell you that it was largely built around a series of 14 points and 7 deadly diseases.  If you are not aware, or were aware but have forgotten, I will tell you that there continues to be a lot of wisdom here that is worth reading and considering as you implement Quality program of your own.  There are a bunch of places to find this stuff, on the web and in books.  One oldie, but goodie, that we still use in our course is “The Deming Management Method by Mary Walton.  It was written in 1986, when Deming was 86, and he wrote the forward for the book himself. 

One of his 14 points was “Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce”.  His point was that slogans don’t make things easier for the worker, they make things harder.  They make for unreasonable expectations, and create more anxiety and frustration than they provide encouragement.   One slogan in particular that he hated was “DIRFT – Do it right the first time”.  There are a number of writings that make it pretty clear that Deming and Crosby did not see eye-to-eye in a number of areas.  I suspect that at a very gut level, Deming was not a fan of Phillip Crosby.

But before I go off too far on a tangent, I will say that what Deming was a fan of was making things measurable.  Continual improvement is not a state of mind, it is or is not a measurable mathematical reality.  Define the conditions for improvement and develop an indicator that you can count or otherwise objectively measure.  You either meet the measure or you don’t.

I mention this because I was flying back from a meeting, flipping through the airplane magazine and I saw an advertisement for a car.  There was a big and bold punch line:  “Excellence wasn’t our goal.  It was our starting point”.  As I read the line, my first reaction was “well I am sure some ad exec thought that was pretty cool, but from a Quality perspective it’s pretty dumb”.  And then, knowing that Deming had worked within the automobile industry, I wonder what Deming would have said.  Well I know what he would have said. 

Deming in the early 1980’s was a consultant for the Ford Motor Company and was instrumental in helping them make the transition from the flash and excess and poor construction of the American automobile that characterized the fins and weight and gas guzzling of the fifties and sixties and seventies.  He taught them that in the long run meeting positive expectations year over year was the road to success.  Rather than making flash as job 1, or making speed as job 1, Ford would succeed making Quality as Job 1.  And thus a very successful, and measureable slogan was born.  
And in 2008 when Chrysler and General Motors were dying, Ford was able to say “no thanks” to the bale out. 

I continue to see sloganeering in advertisements but more in Quality mission statements.  I argue that meaningless phrases that are impossible to measure or impossible to address have no role in Quality mission statements.

We provide “world-class” service.
We are the leading edge service provider.
We are the bleeding-edge of our industry.
We are the best-in-class world stage performer.
We meet or exceed all world class standards.  (Even if this sounds measurable, what does “exceeding” standards mean?)

I guess it all sounds sexy and flash, but it is just nonsense. 

Deming would not have been impressed.


  1. True. Dr. Deming was concerned with the problems of using slogans as a abdication of management. Advertising is different. It might be lame, but Deming was not really speaking against how people choose to market when talking about slogans.

  2. Agreed. He was much more concerned with slogans like "Do it right the first time".
    But advertising slogans also become part of the corporate culture and also have impact.


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